Washington International School was founded in 1966 by Dorothy Goodman to meet the educational needs of Washington's international community and American families seeking a rigorous international education.

In the post-World War II years international schools were established throughout the world to serve the growing number of families, mostly from developed countries, posted abroad by governments and commercial firms. These schools usually were founded by a community of families of a particular nationality and followed the educational system and curriculum of that country. They were international primarily in the sense that they accepted children of other nationalities.

When Goodman founded WIS with three pre-school students in the basement of a Washington, DC house, she had a clear vision for the School. Informed by scientific research on the capacity of the human brain to acquire multiple languages, especially in the early years, and marketing research that focused on the educational needs of international families in Washington, she imagined an independent school in which children could become functionally multilingual and at the same time well informed about world history, geography, literature, and cultures.

From the beginning WIS has offered a range of subjects for study within a common curriculum. The School aims for high academic standards and enables students to master at least two major modern languages. The program equips students to enter university in their own country or any country of their choice.

The School's founding followed shortly after the incorporation of the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), which itself grew from international school efforts to establish a common curriculum and university entry credential for geographically mobile students. WIS was among the first 25 schools to adopt the IB Diploma curriculum.

In 1969, with financial assistance from the Ford Foundation, WIS purchased the Wendell Phillips School building on Olive Street in Georgetown from the District of Columbia. The Olive Street campus served the school for 29 years, first as a space for the whole of the school, and, in subsequent years, as its Lower School site. In 1998, the lower grades moved into a newly-built facility at Reservoir Road and 36th Street NW. For the first time, this location enabled Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 5 to be in the same Primary School Campus. The Tregaron Campus, acquired with assistance of the Ford Foundation in 1980, is the site of the Middle School (Grades 6 through 8) and the Upper School (Grades 9 through 12).


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